Life’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride the last couple of months and I hate roller coasters. I can’t even ride a Ferris wheel (giant wheel) without being bound and gagged and pinned into it… And then I’ve wanted a dog for ages, but I’m way too much of a nomad to keep one unless he or she has been house-trained and is as much of a nomad as I am… or as my friend Deepa very generously called me today, ‘a free spirit’.
So Yeah! I’m looking for a free-spirited pooch who’ll tag along on my journeying through life. Four legged please!
But then I realise that there are no constants in life… Anicca, the Pali word for impermanence being the foundation of all things. Everything arises to pass… But fortunately there are a few things that are more regular than others, and that serve to enrich life, mine at any rate. Among them… Food and Art. They’re essentials, things I can’t live without, sustenance of the body and of the senses. They are soul things, even if you don’t believe in the soul… And here I am, raised Catholic, and a Vipassana meditator, following the teachings of the Buddha, juggling the two with what has now turned into practised ease, but wasn’t always that way. So you’ll forgive the contradictions of word and thought that creep up, if any, and not debate or argue with them… for they are mine, and I don’t see them as such. I choose and hope to take the good out of everything, of the things that fulfil, enrich and make the Heart go YAY!
I started cooking at the age of eleven, not because I had to, but because the kitchen fascinated me, with its aromas, and everything that went on there to bring before you that beautifully steaming or cold plate of food. And then you tucked in… Elbows off the table!
My fondest food memories come from my grandmother’s kitchen in Goa. From the maids drawing water from the well outside the house, laughing and giggling as they went about their work, to that mile-long kitchen with huge earthen pots simmering on gigantic wood fires. And we ate from the time we woke up until we slept. Breakfast, the juice and fruit break, the mid-morning snack of rice conjee with water pickles or the spicier miscut, followed a couple of hours later by lunch, then tea, followed by soup at seven, then dinner at eight-thirty or nine, and finally to wrap things up, dessert… Everything else merely worked around those meal times like fillers. Life was good… and you didn’t get fat or fall ill. There had to be something in the air or was it the water?
And then there was the store room, dark and mysterious, the walls caked with mud to keep everything at an optimum temperature. There was no electricity in Goa in those days, at least not in the villages, which meant no refrigerators, no air-conditioning and obviously no fans, except for those hand-fans that helped you work up a sweat… and obviously no electric lights. So you either carried a candle, a Petromax lamp or a flash-light to see your way around in the dark. We were way too tiny for the first two, so the flash-light it was for us, and we were Blyton’s Famous Five or rather two at first, my brother and I, and then three, when my sister came along, exploring the cavernous maze of Nana’s epicurean treasures that lay within that space.
The real treat were the sweet makers who came in to make the famous dosh or gram sweet, and the coconut sweet called katle-gaus (oops!) made of strands of tender coconut cooked till translucent, coated in powdered sugar and placed in a clump on squares of pastel coloured paper..green, pink and yellow and allowed to dry. They sat in the store room, those huge sweaty women, their sarees hitched up to their thighs, in the glow on the Petromax lamps that burned as bright as they could, creating monstrous shadows of them on the walls as they stirred away at those huge pots of simmering molten liquid sweetness, singing or swearing in Konkanni I didn’t know which, and swigging from the tiny shot glasses of Feni that kept getting refilled as soon as they were downed. It’s little wonder those sweets tasted so good.
Life will always be a roller-coaster… But on the back of all those delightful food memories, I’m taking the slow train.